Police departments from across Rhode Island are reporting on the impact of the state’s relatively new Good Samaritan Law. The law shields from prosecution anyone seeking medical assistance for someone who’s experiencing a drug overdose, with exceptions for crimes involving manufacturing and distributing drugs.
The Good Samaritan law – also known as Good Sam - took effect in June 2012. And the idea was to encourage more people to call 911 for a friend who’s overdosing. Before the law, the caller could be arrested on drug possession or other charges.
The Attorney General’s office required police departments to report back to it how many times the Good Sam law interfered with law enforcement. In other words, were they unable to charge someone with a crime they would have been able to otherwise? In 2012, that happened 12 times, according to the AG’s report. In 2013, the law barred officers from charging people 36 times. In 2012, 182 Rhode Islanders died of drug overdoses. In the first six months of 2013, the latest data available from the state health department, 118 died.
The Attorney General's office has sent its report, with data collected from all but six Rhode Island police departments, to the leadership in the General Assembly. The Good Samaritan law has a built-in "sunset," meaning it's scheduled to expire unless lawmakers renew it.